Patek Philippe 5204R Split Seconds Chronograph

Patek Philippe Split Seconds Chronograph Perpetual Calendar 5204R-011

Thierry Stern, the president of Patek Philippe says of its Grand Complications:

“They are a unique combination of tradition and innovation. The ultimate expression of watchmaking mastery, but for us it’s not only about their technical complexity, they should also be aesthetically pleasing for the wearer. Although our collection of complicated watches could easily grace our museum, we believe that even our grandest complications are at their best comfortably resting on a wrist.”

So on that entirely accurate note, let’s take a look at the Patek Philippe Split Seconds Chronograph Perpetual Calendar 5204 in rose gold. 

It would probably be a good idea at this point to go through a quick run down of the language around watchmaking complications and what it means.
Im sure that the veterans will already be well aware but if you’re new to watches then the terminology can get a little on the OTT side.. 

A complication is anything above and beyond standard timekeeping, for example a date, GMT, or chronograph. 

Some are modular, meaning that they are bolt-ons attached to a movement rather than being an integral part of it.
A well known example of this is the dubois depraz module, which is mounted to a base movement to provide a chronograph complication.

Others are integrated within dedicated movements like the Rolex Sky-Dweller or the Patek World Time.
They serve a specific purpose and are not necessarily designed to showcase the prowess of the manufacturer but to serve as useful and dedicated tools. 

A Grande Complication goes significantly above and beyond and consists of A SERIES (more than 3) of additional highly complex and integrated functions within one watch.
They are the technical flexes of master watchmakers. 

The way I tend to look at it, is if its got more complications than the number people you could fit in a mini, its probably a Grand Comp.

Patek has always been known as the master of Grand Complications, and rightly so since they’ve had over a century of practice.

The earliest known Patek Grand Comp was built in 1898 and sold in 1900. It is known as the Palmer Grand Complication as it was commissioned by a gentleman called Stephen S. Palmer.
It's a rose gold pocket watch which included a perpetual calendar, minute repeater, split second chronograph, grande and petite supersonnerie (chimes) and moon-phase.
Its existence was only discovered in 2013 when it appeared at a Christies auction house as an immaculate full set including original sales receipt, warranty, operating instructions and receipt for Stephens stay at Geneva’s Beau Rivage Hotel where he went to take delivery.

Up until 2013, Henry Graves and James Ward Packard were considered to be the earliest connoisseurs of Patek’s Grand Comps, so the discovery of the Palmer required a quick rewrite of Patek history. 

The Henry Graves Super-complication still remains Patek’s Grand Complication of legend.
It packs in a staggering 24 complications including Westminster chimes, a perpetual calendar and a celestial complication tracking the skies over Graves’ New York home. It was commissioned in 1925 and took 8 years to complete.
It is the worlds most expensive pocket watch and reached $24 million dollars when it was auctioned by Sothebys in 2014 beating the record of $11 million it set when it was sold in 1999.

The Graves Super-comp held the worlds most expensive watch record for years until it was beaten by another Patek, the reference 6300A Grandmaster Chime which was created specifically for the Geneva “OnlyWatch” auction to raise money for the Monaco Association against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. 

The OnlyWatch Grandmaster Chime sold for $31.19 million dollars. 

Launched in 2014 to celebrate Patek Philippe’s 175th anniversary the Grandmaster Chime is the most complex wristwatch that Patek has ever made with 20 different complications, many of which are dedicated to acoustics.
It has a grande and petite sonnerie, minute repeater, date chime, perpetual calendar, alarm and moon-phase to name but a few of its tricks.
It is usually housed in white gold case, but the one of a kind variant for OnlyWatch was the first and only time that the Grandmaster Chime was presented in stainless steel. 

With this sort of lead up, you know we’ve got a Grand Complication in store for you, so let’s get into the Patek Philippe Split Seconds Chronograph Perpetual Calendar 5204 in rose gold.

This is a beautiful watch that manages to straddle both past and present.            It’s a classic manually wound grand comp cased in precious metal as they have been since the 1940/50s, but the choice of 40mm diameter and a slate sunburst dial really highlights that this is a modern creation.
Although the 5204 has been in Pateks catalogue since 2012, it has only been available in this rose and slate combination since 2021.

The Grand element of the 5204 is that it is both a Perpetual Calendar and a Split Seconds Chronograph, both of which are at the top end of complications. 

There are three types of calendar complication in Patek’s current line-up.

Weekly Calendar, which shows the day, date, and week number.

Annual Calendar which shows day date and month, and can identify which months have 30 or 31 days and self-adjust accordingly. It will still need to be reset annually to account for leap years. 

The daddy of calendars, the perpetual is able to calculate and account for leap years as well as shorter and longer months. The Perpetual calendar will run to the turn of the 21st century before it requires re-setting so essentially, it will run correctly and “in perpetuity” for the rest of your lifetime. 

If we take a look at the dial, you can see the day, month, leap year and day/night indication displayed in apertures along with the date indicator around the lower sub-dial which also includes a moonphase complication. 

The other two sub-dials are linked to the chronograph with small seconds at 9 and a 30 minute counter at 3.
Note the lovely old school chemin du feu (railtrack) print around the sub-dials echoing the larger 60 minute track around the dial.

Also known as a Rattrapante (meaning catch up in French) the split second chronograph is no ordinary mechanism. Not surprising as its making up part of a grand complication piece. 

The split second chronograph is capable of measuring two intermediate times simultaneously by using a pair of superimposed hands. Very fancy sounding, but what’s that then in real terms?

It can record two events that have the same start but different finish times.

When you start the chronograph using the pusher at 2, both chrono hands begin to move in tandem.
You can't actually see one beneath the other as it begins its trot around the dial, such is the tight engineering at play here.

When the pusher in the crown is pressed the additional/secondary hand that has previously been ghosting below the main chrono hand stops and reveals itself so you can measure that particular unit of time without stopping the main chronograph.

Press the pusher again and the split-seconds hand catches up to the main chronograph hand (which has not been paused or stopped at all) 

This allows you to record multiple intervals like laps in a formula one race, relays, or the time different runners cross a finish line.

Mechanisms like this are extremely difficult to make to perfect tolerances and as a result, are produced in small numbers.
It is the ability to measure split seconds and the rarity of the complication that crowns the rattrapante king of chronographs.

Given that the 5204R packs in a pair of massive complications, it houses them both in a very wearable 40mm case so while it's smart, it's not a dinner plate. That said, despite being compact, the layout of the dial is exceptionally clear and uncluttered, and what a dial it is.
Rather than being brass, this is an 18-carat gold dial which has been treated to a glorious smokey slate grey sunburst.
Patek actually owns its own dial factory “Cadrans Flückiger” which has been operating since 2004 and is responsible for the dial on this, and other models as well as creating dials for other high end brands. 

The rose gold case is traditional with stepped lugs, inset pushers for setting the calendar and moonphase functions, and the ratrappante pusher housed in the crown for ease of access. 

Strap-wise Patek have made an interesting choice here with alligator embossed calfskin rather than the real deal. I suspect that this is because society is moving away from exotic skins for both ethical reasons, and the headache of exporting straps through and to countries which require CITES permits. Embossed calf is increasing in popularity, particularly if done well, and of course, in Pateks case it is brilliantly executed. If you couldn’t tell from the slightly softer texture of the strap, you’d assume it was gator.